By MARCY GORDON
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A Palm Beach County judge ruled today he did not have the authority to order the new election sought by residents who contended they were confused by the county’s ballot.
Circuit Judge Jorge Labarga canceled a hearing that had been scheduled to hear from experts and voters who said they either punched two holes in the ballot or voted for the wrong candidate because of their confusion.
Residents immediately said they would appeal.
Labarga said states have the authority to enact laws to protect citizens’ rights to vote, and that also provide a way to deal with situations where that right has been infringed.
However, lawyers cited no cases in which a revote was done for a presidential election.
“The plaintiffs in this action cite no case law authority in the history of our nation, nor can the Court find any, where a revote or new election was permitted in a Presidential race,” Labarga wrote.
That should come as no surprise, he said, because the U.S. Constitution clearly states the presidential “electors” must be elected on the same day throughout the nation – the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, every fourth year.
Labarga, who immigrated from Cuba as a child, said during a hearing last Friday that if he had to rule the Constitution did not permit a revote, it would be “the hardest decision I ever make.”
Andre Fladell, one of several county residents who had sued, said the ballot was illegal and that he would appeal.
“If we the people are expected to adhere to the rule of law or be held responsible when we violate it, then so should the government be held responsible,” he said.
Meanwhile, the hand-counting of ballots continued at the county’s Emergency Operations Center. No new numbers were released.
Republican George W. Bush had a net gain of 12 votes with 31 of the 531 precincts tallied after Saturday’s counting was complete.
Counters worked all day Sunday but the canvassing board released no vote totals, saying there were too many questionable ballots remaining. It had fully counted 197 precincts by the end of the day, along with 86 sets of absentee ballots out of 106 absentee groupings.
The pace of the work, with Republican and Democratic observers making frequent objections to ballots, means it’s “extremely unlikely” the job will be completed by the previous target date of Thanksgiving Day, said canvassing board spokeswoman Denise Cote.
Palm Beach voters cast 462,350 ballots in the Nov. 7 election. About 30,000 were thrown out during the initial machine counts, including about 10,000 ballots on which no vote was registered by the machines. Those so-called “undervotes” are the ballots getting the closest scrutiny during the hand recounts.
Democratic lawyer Dennis Newman said he was upset that some 150 ballots with Gore votes were discounted because they were not punched through but merely dimpled. Twenty dimpled ballots would have gone to Bush, he said.
The judge supervising the recount said the canvassing board was being consistent in the way it judges ballots.
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